We have to begin with nomenclature. To Americans, I've found, kebab refers to food that's skewered. Thus you're got chicken kebabs, meaning chunks of chicken strung onto a skewer, usually with some veg; or even fruit kabobs, as in fruit artfully threaded onto some kind of hand-held stick. Israelis call the chunks-of-meat-on-a-stick scenario shipudim ("skewers") or shishlik (a Hebrized form of a Turkic word, which also found its way into English as shish kebab). One of the most common types of shipudim is made with boneless chicken thighs, which is called pargiyot. Meanwhile, in Israel, a kebab is one thing and one thing only: spiced ground meat, usually beef or lamb, cooked over a fire on a spit.
The best way to cook kebabs, obviously, is over a mangal (or your big American backyard gas grill). For that, however, you have to get them to sit nicely for you on their skewer. You also have to go out into whatever season it is. So when you don't have the inclination for that sort of thing, you've got these easy, right-in-you-kitchen kebab-spiced meatballs instead.
Key kebab elements: ground meat, big chunks of onion, fresh parsley, and spice
Though it bucks convention, I like using ground turkey for these kebabs. I find that even lean ground beef has too much moisture, while chicken doesn't have the right texture or taste profile. If I can get a white/dark meat ground turkey blend, I go for that; but plain white meat works nicely too. (Also, in case you hadn't noticed, kosher meat is not exactly easy on the wallet, but ground kosher turkey tends to be more on the budget-friendly side of things.)
The next crucial bit is the onion. You want the kebabs to be chock-full of relatively big chunks of onion, but not so big that the kebabs don't hold together well. I dice the onion medium-fine. Same deal with the parsley: it should be prominent, but not too prominent. It's the goldilocks theory of kebabs.
The last bit is the spice blend. Being kebab devotees around here, I keep a big canister of Pereg Kebab Spice on hand. But, it's easy to mix up your own kebab blend for the recipe using common spices you probably have already: paprika and black pepper are the highlights, with notes of cumin, turmeric, coriander, garlic powder, and a pinch of cardamom.
Also, I have a secret ingredient to divulge here: Worcestershire sauce. If you're looking for a Worcestershire to use with meat, I use French's, which has a decent ingredients list and is OU, but not OU-fish (like Lea & Perrins, which, yeah, tastes better) but also non-vegetarian. There are also kosher vegetarian/vegan versions of Worcestershire on the market, but they're not worth your time. If you'd rather skip Worcestershire, substitute soy sauce.
Preparing the meatballs
You can cook the meatballs in a grill pan or a straight-sided skillet. My grill pan requires less oil and sears smart grill marks on the meatballs, but just as often I make them in a skillet. To shape the meatballs like mini kebabs, roll the meat mixture into a ball and then lightly squeeze your fist closed over the ball, forming an elongated football shape.
My big tip for getting a nice crust is to leave the meatballs alone in the skillet and let them cook--longer on the first side, in particular.
Dip 'em in tahini...or ketchup, whatever floats your boat. I like to serve these meatballs alongside hummus and pita and a salad, or with oven-roasted seasonal veg, tossed in olive oil and salt.
Pan-Seared Kebab Turkey Meatballs
For the meatballs:
- 1 lb. ground turkey - 500g
- 1 medium onion, diced medium-fine
- ¼ cup parsley, finely minced
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire or soy sauce
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup water
For the kabob spice blend (or use a premade blend; see note):
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1-2 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp ground turmeric
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- pinch cardamom
Prepare the kabob spice blend:
- Combine all the spices and whisk until well blended. Set aside. (See note to use a premade blend.)
Prepare the meatball mix:
- Dice the onion and parsley medium-fine. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Add the bread crumbs, Worcestershire/soy sauce, and spices to the bowl. Mix all the ingredients well.
- Add the ground turkey to the bread-crumb mixture and combine thoroughly, so that the spiced bread crumbs are evenly distributed through the meat. The best tool here is your hands, but you can use a firm spatula as well.
Cook the meatballs:
- In a grill pan or straight-sided skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat until thin and shimmering.
- Working straight out of the bowl with the meatball mixture, form the meat into balls, then lightly squeeze in your fist to form an elongated football shape. As you form each one, place it gently into the skillet. I like to arrange them in concentric circles, starting on the outside of the pan where the heat is lesser.
- After you have finished rolling the meatballs, turn up the heat to medium. Allow to cook for 5-7 minutes undisturbed.
- Gently turn the meatballs one by one with the help of a spatula - one with a deep indent works well. Start with the first ones you placed in the pan and proceed from there.
- Cook the meatballs for another few minutes on the other side, until cooked through and nicely crusted.